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Locals' lament in Dibrugarh: Infra push but no jobs

By Nitin Kumar
April 19, 2024 15:35 IST
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‘It feels like Assam is good just as a tourist spot and not a place to earn and live.’

IMAGE: Workers at a tea garden in Dibrugarh. Photograph: ANI Photo

Popular as “tea city”, which also houses independent India’s first oil field, there is something else brewing in Assam’s Dibrugarh: discontent among its youth.

Most of the young residents are voicing their frustration over lack of jobs, despite the rapid infrastructure growth in and around Dibrugarh.

“Only roads are being constructed here, not industries. Locals do not even get contracts these days. Like the majority of the tea plantation workers, all other jobs and contracts are going to outsiders,” says Minral Hazarika, a 30-year-old resident of Mohanbari in Dibrugarh district.


Highlighting the challenges faced by locals, who rely on driving to support their families, Hazarika laments: “Even the government is penalising locals if we try to make ends meet by doing some work.”

Hazarika, along with over 50 fellow Assamese, is protesting against the administration’s imposition of fines for transporting tourists in their personal vehicles. The administration permits only commercial vehicles registered with the taxi counter at the airport.

“How can we afford to pay Rs 50,000 in commercial tax every year when we don’t even earn that much? Dibrugarh only receives 8 flights, yet over 100 people depend on them. We hardly ever get more than one passenger, and sometimes none at all,” another protester, Nobin Hazarika, said. He further highlights: “Police are imposing fines ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 30,000 on many drivers.”

Nobin’s concern is not without merit.

The latest Economic Survey of Assam for 2023-24 reveals a significant increase in the number of fresh educated youths registering with employment exchanges. In 2022, nearly one million individuals had registered, compared to just 140,000 the previous year. Additionally, data from the Assam Employment Exchange Portal indicates that 2.2 million unemployed youth are currently registered.

While the unemployment rate in Assam for the July-June 2022-23 period at 1.7 per cent is lower compared to the national average of 3.2 per cent, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey, the quality of employment is subpar.

In Assam, 10.8 per cent of the population holds regular or wage employment -- the second lowest in the country -- which is significantly below the national average of 20.9 per cent.

The majority of individuals in the state are self-employed, which encompasses unpaid household work or operating small businesses, accounting for 63.9 per cent, as compared to the national average of 57.3 per cent.

Trinayan, a housekeeping staff member employed on the Dibrugarh-Kanyakumari Vivek Express, earning Rs 450 per day, sheds light on the grim reality faced by many in Assam.

“At every station, passengers require assistance with their blankets and pillows,” Trinayan adds, highlighting the desperate lengths individuals are willing to go to in order to provide for their families in Assam.

Anamika (name changed), a 23-year-old visitor to the Bogibeel Bridge, the country’s longest rail-cum-road bridge spanning the Brahmaputra river and connecting Upper Assam with eastern Arunachal Pradesh, asserts that migration appears to be the only viable option for many locals.

 “People from Dibrugarh are migrating to Guwahati, and those from Guwahati are moving to other parts of the country in pursuit of better education and job prospects,” she said, adding, “It feels like Assam is good just as a tourist spot and not a place to earn and live.”

Despite government efforts in infrastructure development, there is a notable absence of significant industrial investment in the state, claim residents. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated and laid foundation stones for projects worth approximately Rs 18,000 crore during his two-day tour of Assam in March.

However, only Tata Electronics has announced a semiconductor unit with an investment of Rs 27,000 crore.

Locals say infrastructure is not the only thing that is going to guarantee their votes in the upcoming election. Jobs are also important.

“We appreciate the progress in infrastructure, but our votes will only be guaranteed with a commitment to providing jobs,” says Jogesh Gohain, a 35-year-old daily wage worker in Dibrugarh.

In the 2019 elections, the BJP secured victory in nine out of the 14 seats in Assam, while the Congress managed to win three seats. Additionally, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) claimed victory on one seat, with one seat being won by an Independent candidate.

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Nitin Kumar in Dibrugarh
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